By Salvatore Fazio
Read on MiamiHerald.com
Odanel Ortega, 67, recently performed for an audience of hospice patients at Hialeah
Convalescent Home. With a classical guitar and his pliant voice, he filled the room with boleros, rancheras and waltzes.
Rogelio Pineda, an 81-year-old nursing home resident and former restaurant chef, was one of more than 50 people in the center’s activities room. He particularly enjoyed Cielito Lindo, a popular Mexican folk song.
“It was very pleasant,” said Pineda, a resident of the facility since August.
Volunteers for the Miami-based Vitas Innovative Hospice Care’s music appreciation program are sharing their talents with hospice patients in
Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“t’s a way to give back to those people who gave a lot when they were younger,” said Ortega, who has performed at the Hialeah site for more than three months. He mostly performs in the activities room, but occasionally he makes visits to patients in their rooms.
The program is intended to help patients understand that their life matters up until the minute they die,
Broward County volunteer services manager Anne Warren said. “They need somebody near to reassure them and let them know this.”
Angela Hoffer started crooning through the hallways of Vitas Innovative Hospice Care Unit at Memorial Hospital Pembroke three years ago.
Before entering a patient’s room, she waves, smiles and politely asks if they would like to hear a song.
For Hoffer, who considers singing a life-long passion, performing for hospice patients is an opportunity to share her talent.
“It’s a little selfish on my part, too, because I get a good feeling when I walk out of that room,” said Hoffer, 66.
Dealing with elders became part of her life in high school.
“My parents were senior citizens when I was back in high school, so I learned at an early age what it meant to be around illness,” she said.
Hoffer, a marriage counselor and family therapist, took care of her mother for 25 years — from the day her mother became a widow to the day she died. She said that experience helps her better understand and deal with the patient’s challenges.
“Sometimes patients seem more responsive than others. But I’ll sing any ways. I’ll sing softer,” said
Hoffer, in an unmistakably Brooklyn accent.
Warren said music often has a positive impact on patients who may not seem responsive. “By hearing a song, it takes patients back to a time in their life when they were healthy, whether they can respond or not,” she said. The therapeutic value of music performance goes beyond a patient’s entertainment, she said.
For more than three years, Jeff Engle, 46, a New York University certified music therapist, has worked with Vitas hospice patients in Palm Beach County.
“During our sessions, I try to use music that is familiar to them to give them a cognitive workout,” Engle
said. “I find that the familiar music and familiar conversation about things that were important to them many years ago often helps to retard the degeneration of cognitive impairment.”
Engle recently visited Phil Tamboia, 95, who receives Vitas care at his Boynton Beach home.
With a musical keyboard on his lap, Engle sat in front of Tamboia and his wife, Alba, telling jokes and singing songs, encouraging them to sing along. They look forward to Engle’s weekly visits.
“I wish he could come every day,” said Tamboia, who once owned a luncheonette in Silver Lakes, N.Y.
The couple has been married for 68 years.
“The population is aging, Alzheimer’s and dementia are maladies that are increasing exponentially and we need music,” Engle said. “It has medicinal value.”